The first two races of the USF Pro 2000 Championship have come and gone. The Grand Prix of St. Petersburg was a solid start to our 2023 season. I was able to make good progress in the car and get a good read on what I need to do to be successful this season.
St. Petersburg is always a very tricky race weekend. Because of the nature of the street course, it is one of the most punishing tracks to make a mistake. Any small misjudgment will often put you in the wall and end your session. Pair this with having very little track time before qualifying and you have a very challenging but very fun race event.
On top of the limited time scheduled, delays took even more track time from us. So, we only got around 20 minutes of green flag time to learn the track before qualifying – and there were a few minor changes to the track. The team had been well prepared coming into the event so we had a strong car for qualifying and were very confident we could earn a solid starting spot.
Qualifying started strong. I was bouncing around the top 10 with lap times improving each lap. We had just put on our second set of sticker Cooper Tires which would allow me the chance to show the car’s capabilities. Unfortunately, I made a small misjudgment and brushed the inside wall in turn 9. I managed to keep the car from bouncing into the outside wall which would have caused significant damage, but the brush unfortunately offset the alignment and forced us to end the session early. At that time, I was just outside the top 10 and .8 up on that lap, but as other drivers finished their sessions and went quicker, I fell to P18, where I would have to start both races in the 20-car field.
I had a lot of work to do to make up for a rough starting spot. So, as soon as the green flag dropped in race 1, I got to work. The car felt good, and I was definitely quicker than the cars around me, but it’s more difficult to pass in the USF Pro car because of more aero wash from other cars, which became very evident in these races. I was able to work my way up to a P11 finish, but still not where I knew the car was capable of running.
Race 2 went similar. This race was after the IndyCar race, so the track conditions were very slick if you got offline. IndyCar throws marbles and dust offline so any mistake will severely hurt you. This also takes grip away from anything off the racing line in the passing zones which makes it even more difficult to pass. By about the halfway point I had worked my way up to P12, but while trying to catch the pack ahead of me on lap 23 of 25, I got into the turn 4 brake zone a little too hot and went into the runoff. I might have been able to make the corner, but didn’t want to risk it for a result already outside the top 10. This put me back to 15th where I would finish the race.
While these results are not what we wanted, we know the car is very strong. I know what I need to master to get good results this year. I’m 12th in points right now and only four points out of eighth in a very talented group. The three upcoming road courses are at Sebring International Raceway, Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and Road America. These are all tracks where it is easier to pass, but it is still going to be important that I figure out qualifying so I don’t put myself in a position where I have to fight back to where I belong in the field.
I will be back on track at Sebring March 24-26. Everyone has done a lot of testing there and this is one of the tracks I particularly enjoy driving. I’m excited to get back in the car and show what we can do.
Thank you to those who made this season possible!